Gian Piero Gasperini must tighten his backline before going up against free-scoring Manchester City

Atalanta face an uphill task of stopping Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling when they travel to the Ethiad on UEFA Champions League matchday three…

After a brilliant run in the 2018-19 domestic season that saw Atalanta finish third in the league table, the Italian outfit qualified to play the UEFA Champions League (UCL) for the first time in their history. But Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have not had the smoothest of starts in their maiden Champions League campaign as they have lost their opening two fixtures against Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk respectively. 

After getting outclassed in a 4-0 defeat to Zagreb, their defensive frailties once again came to the forefront when Shakhtar’s Manor Salomon broke Italian hearts with an injury-time winner at the San Siro, which is Atalanta’s adopted home for their European campaign.

Gasperini has stuck to his favourite 3-4-1-2 formation in this season as well with the two wing-backs occupying an advanced position on the pitch. They are instructed to press high and in the meanwhile, defensive midfielder Marten De Roon drops deep and joins the three-man backline to add more steel in defence. 

But individual errors, lack of co-ordination amongst the back-three and the inability to fall back during an opposition break have hurt Atalanta on numerous occasions. During Zagreb’s first goal Petar Stojanovic was allowed ample space and time by Robin Gosens to deliver a cross that was perfectly placed in the space between the keeper and the defenders. Berat Djimsiti and his fellow centre-back Andrea Masiello also could have done better in marking Mislav Orsic as the striker sneaked in between the two defenders and scored an easy tap-in. 

The Blues and the Blacks struggled to cope whenever the opposition used the flanks to attack and all the three goals that they conceded in the opening half were from moves that took shape from the wings. 

Against Shakhtar, in spite of dominating possession, their defensive lapses allowed the visitors to come back from a goal down and take away all the three points.

WIth left wing-back Rafael Toloi out of position, it was De Roon who was covering his teammate. But the Dutch midfielder was left red-faced by Alan Patrick’s brilliant first touch. Acres of space opened up and striker Junior Moraes made the most of the vacated area to score the equaliser for Shakhtar. 

Against Manchester City, another stern test awaits their defence away from home. Raheem Sterling has been nothing short of brilliant this season on the left-wing and with Sergio Aguero back from injury, Pep Guardiola will go for the jugular.

Atalanta must weather the early storm. In Zagreb, they conceded within the first 10 minutes and their defence fell like a pack of cards. City’s attacking threat is manifold to that of Dinamo and if they concede early, then it will be a long 90 minutes for Gasperini’s men. 

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